I was at this party back in the late 90’s in Greenwood, MS. It was an engagement party; a very lah-de-dah affair, as the bride and groom to be were both of old-money families. There were many, many interesting things going on, none of which have to do with the name of this web-site. One is worth telling before I get to the A&W explanation, however:
The hosts of the party were a married couple in their mid to late 50’s. The husband, however, was also gay. This is not incredibly uncommon in the South (or anywhere else, I guess). Anyway, the husband had a fair amount to drink and was having a most engaging conversation with an attractive young man at the party. His wife, having also imbibed as the occasion warranted, decided that with her husband’s attention elsewhere she was free to make her own fun. She decided to do so by dancing with another attractive young man in attendance. Let’s say that at the least, their dancing grew ‘impassioned’. This took little time to attract the attention of the husband (not to mention many others, a married women getting jiggy with a guy 30 years her junior does not go unnoticed, especially in Greenwood) who promptly left his conversation and confronted the young gentleman very loudly as to what he thought he was doing with his wife. Some people looked shocked, some ignored the incident (making me wonder how often it may have already occurred), and I stared in apt wonder at the opportunities that partying with people much above my station warranted.
Anyway, the origin of Ashes & Water. Earlier in the day, not too long after the party had started, we were in line for the buffet, which was served in the host’s dining room. Someone had set a drink down directly on the buffet, which was a fine old antique probably worth more than my life. The hostess, the aforementioned dancing queen, threw a complete tizzy, going bonkers that there was a water ring on her buffet. Very calmly, one of the house-ladies serving at the party asked the bartender to hand her a water soaked napkin. She took it, went out to the porch and returned, having wiped it through a used ashtray. She then rubbed the napkin with it’s mixture of ashes and water on the water ring on the buffet, dried it with another napkin, and voila, the water ring was gone. The house lady returned to her duties, receiving no thanks from the hostess: it was all just part of the job.
That little incident left quite a many indirect impressions on me for some reason. First, that ashes and water are just the thing for removing a water ring on a finely finished piece of furniture. Second, that the best answer to many questions will come out of nowhere as long as you surround yourself with people who have a vast range of experience in matters of living life. Third, it reinforced a long held contempt for people with more money than God who couldn’t fend for themselves when a water ring appeared on a piece of furniture, much less a matter of actual importance. And finally: never, ever, if at all possible, refuse an invitation to a party in the Mississippi Delta.